Great scenery, questionable performances, and excessive modifications to the source material add up to a less than fulfilling experience, in this latest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic.
The pic opens with Edmond Dantes (James Caviezel) and others, from the ship Pharaon, attempting to land on the forbidden island of Elba, in search of medical care for their stricken captain. No vessels are to approach this island, where Napoleon is imprisoned by the British, and the party is fired upon. Napoleon himself intercedes, and arranges for his personal physician to attend to the captain. In exchange for this favor, he forces the illiterate Edmond to carry a note, secretly, to a person back in Marseilles, where they are soon due to land.
This note, of course, will be the basis of Edmond’s unjust imprisonment, and his calculated revenge.
In Marseilles, first mate Danglars (Albie Woodington) complains to Morrel, the ship’s owner, that Dantes should never have stopped at Elba, a very risky affair, and as it was, the captain died anyway. Instead of punishing Edmond, however, Morrel names him captain, thus Danglars becomes the enemy of Dantes.
This promotion allows Edmond to now marry the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), much to the chagrin of Fernand (Guy Pearce), who is in love, or at least in lust, with her. Fernand conspires with Danglars to frame Dantes, and the final nail is struck when prosecutor de Villefort (James Frain) gets involved. He is ready to let Edmond go free until he sees that the letter is addressed to de Villefort’s father, a known Bonapartist. Given that the royalists are currently in charge, this is hardly the affiliation that an ambitious civil servant needs, so de Villefort burns the letter and condemns Dantes to the terrible island prison Chateau D’If.
The three men who conspired against him all do extremely well, and Fernand marries Mercedes within a month of Edmond’s arrest.
After some years of incarceration, Dantes hooks up with fellow prisoner Abbe Faria (Richard Harris). They spend their time digging an escape tunnel, between lessons in many subjects given by the learned priest. The abbe also helps Edmond figure out just who was behind his sad fate. Shortly before he dies, he reveals to Edmond the existence of an immense treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo.
Using the death of Faria as a means of escaping the prison, Dantes finds the treasure, and uses it to exact his meticulously planned revenge on Danglars, Fernand, and de Villefort.
It would take a separate essay, and a long one at that, to detail all the plot changes made in the screenplay. Some, though, are so foolish and damaging to the film, that they are worthy of mention.
The opening sequence in Elba wastes far too much time, and adds precious little to the story. This is the one example of the movie emphasizing a plot point far more than does the lengthy book!
Having Danglars take over Morrel’s shipping company, instead of becoming a wealthy banker, as in the book, was done to make his character more sinister. But he should have remained a wealthy banker, since his downfall (financial ruin) was much sweeter in the end. His fate in the movie comes off as anticlimactic. Similarly, what was the purpose of making Fernand the best friend of Edmond? In the book, they barely know one another, at first. How could he have been so ignorant of his best friend’s miserable personality and evil intentions?
I understand that a film must attract the teenage audience to be successful, so having Edmond end up with Mercedes is necessary. But the screenplay’s most absurd change of all was to identify the father of Mercedes’ son Albert as Edmond, not Fernand. If the intent was to demonstrate that her “true love” was Dantes, this is wildly inconsistent with her marrying Fernand so quickly after Edmond is taken away. Even teenage girls will have a problem with this one.
As far as the perfs, Richard Harris does the best job. Guy Pearce goes way over the top with his pouty rich boy shtick, Dagmara Dominczyk has some looks but no talent, and James Caviezel plays it so understated that you hardly care about the revenge bit.
How much of the blame should go to helmer Kevin Reynolds is not for me to say, but the same names do keep coming up whenever the topic is cinematic misfires.